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Burglar series by Lawrence Block, Random House

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Sep 3rd, 2019. Artwork published in
circa 1977
Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, 1977
Emanuel Schongut. License: All Rights Reserved.

The Burglar books are a series of comic mystery novels written by Lawrence Block (b. 1938). The protagonist is Bernie Rhodenbarr,

a New York City-based thief who excels in lock picking and breaking and entering, and who is addicted to the thrill it provides. He served time in prison in his youth, and since then has resolved to avoid getting caught again.

Emanuel Schongut did the illustrations for the book jackets of the first four titles. They were published by Random House between 1977 and 1980. Schongut provided the illustration leaving space for the type. Dick Adelson, the art director, then added the typography.

For the first two books, Adelson used Plaza Ultra, center-aligned, stacked, and interlocked, in tightly spaced caps with enlarged swash forms inserted for the first and final letters (see EndcapS). Plaza was drawn by Alan Meeks and issued by Letraset in 1975 (originally under the name Playboy, until Hugh Hefner threatened to sue). The smaller lines are set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic.

This layout was revised for The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979). The author’s name was moved to the top, and Plaza made way for Wexford. This face is likewise a geometric display sans with Art Deco vibes (see e.g. the round-top A) Designed by Richard A. Schlatter, Wexford was released by VGC in 1972.

The Burglar in the Closet (1978)
Emanuel Schongut. License: All Rights Reserved.
The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
Emanuel Schongut. License: All Rights Reserved.
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
Emanuel Schongut. License: All Rights Reserved.


  • Plaza
  • Wexford
  • ITC Avant Garde Gothic



Artwork location

1 Comment on “Burglar series by Lawrence Block, Random House”

  1. © Vignelli Center for Design Studies (via the New York Times)

    The original cover art for the first book, Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, shows Bernie Rhodenbarr carrying a yellow Bloomingdale’s bag, featuring a scribbled rendition of the iconic logo designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1972. (The OO ligature in the logo is echoed in Adelson’s title typography.) This detail is missing from the final version of the book jacket.

    Images: Goodreads

    Lawrence Block comments:

    As it happened, the geniuses in Random House’s legal department made them strip “Bloomingdale’s” off the bag, because some twuit in editorial was silly enough to ask legal. (Like Bloomie’s would sue. Yeah, right.)

    Between 1983 and 2004, six more books about Bernie Rhodenbarr were added, by another publisher, and without Schongut’s involvement. When Block self-published the eleventh book, he invited Schongut to do the cover illustration. The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons was published in December 2013, 36 years after the first book. The typography was done by Jaye Manus, using Moderna by Fontalicious.

    Image: Emanuel Schongut

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